We’ve got to question this democracy

The drive for an egalitarian society will remain abstract if attention is not paid to details within the system.  Building a democracy in a complex heterogeneous state as Nigeria requires intense attention to details.

Our greatest undoing for years to come will be related to basic democratic values and how they are applied. It questions our ethics and values as individuals or as a people. The rule of law is conspicuously missing from our democratic system. Man is bound to err and the devil is bound to manifest, but onus lies on the state to respond adequately with the rule of law.

A society cannot discuss or determine cases of violations without being first governed by the rule of law. According to Lauren Oliver, human beings in their natural state are unpredictable, erratic, and unhappy. It is only once their animal instincts are controlled that they can be responsible, dependable, and content.

The debate within the Nigerian polity is subtly being eroded by the ‘don’t hate’ or opposition syndrome. The ruling party (PDP) and its goons are subtly using social media to pass a message that is quickly gaining momentum. Their argument is that one must not abuse the government because it is wrong, anyone who attacks the PDP must surely like the opposition party. By and large, the opposition parties are eventually as guilty as the PDP when it comes to abuse of power or office, so by default the ruling party should get more flak than the opposition political parties.

Since 1999, the PDP has had majority reign across the nation – from the Presidency to the Senate, House of Representatives and state governors. The party must understand that its firm grip and control of the Nigerian state will generate criticism in as much proportion. Should any political party act as stupidly as we have seen in the past, without the people retaining the right to let them know how stupid they have been?

Many recent events in the country are, to put bluntly, on the borderline between sheer stupidity and foolishness with no regard for the rule of law. For unfortunate but obvious reasons, majority of the citizenry will not bother to question the political parties. Has the PDP or any of the opposition parties proved itself to be different in a positive way?

There are several instances and different scenarios depicting abuse of power or office.

March 2012, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, two term governor of Lagos state and the national leader of the opposition party- ACN, turned 60. All roads led to Lagos state, where a carnival-like party was held. To ACN stalwarts, Asiwaju deserved to be honored; after all, he ensured the party regained its stronghold of the southwest and hence buttered their bread. Solely a private affair between a political party and its supporters, questions were raised on how the carnival-like party was funded.

PDP and other opposition parties making use of the press implied that the events must have cost over N1billion.  Being accountable to no one but themselves, the event was massively spectacular in the midst of abject poverty; the masses were placated with packed food handouts. One pertinent observation was the deployment of Lagos State resources during the celebration and the question arises regarding abuse of power by the incumbent governor in deploying state resources to celebrate with the leader of his political party.

The ACN was quick to defend itself by claiming that the PDP and its other perceived enemies were out to score cheap political points against them in Lagos. They were in a celebratory mood and were not breaking any law as such but did not try to disprove the fact that state resources were deployed. Did other states under ACN leadership also contribute to this party from their state coffers?

Did the ACN Senators and members of the House of Representatives (who still refuse to declare their earnings) contribute towards this grand celebration?

A lot of questions were left unanswered but it was very obvious that Lagos state resources amongst others were deployed to facilitate the party. Even if not via cash contributions as alluded by the press, but manpower and state facilities were used.

Did Lagos state generate any revenue from the use of the state stadium? Should state resources be deployed for the benefit of a private citizen and other personal events? No.  If Asiwaju paid for the cost of this party from his private coffers, one must ask how much he was worth before and after attaining public office.

Last week the ruling People’s Democratic Party decided to host its Board of Trustee (BOT) elections inside the presidential villa, Abuja. While the internal democracy of all political parties is pivotal to our budding democracy and party structure, it should also be of interest to all citizens. How these political parties conduct their internal affairs is not too far from the way they govern the nation when elected, a maize plant won’t yield cassava when it is harvest time.

On the roll call of the political big wigs who attended the elections, was Chief Olabode George, one time National Vice-Chairman PDP South West, former Chairman of the Nigerian Ports Authority and an ex-convict. No surprise there; the PDP has proven time and again to be a shameless party with no morals and values. What kind of message is the ruling party passing to the nation when ex-convicts are part and parcel of its Board of Trustees? Someone in the PDP needs to check again what a board of trustee means.

It is expected that the president will only use the presidency for the sole purpose and duty which he signed up to; this does not need to be a written law as we do not expect to be governed by morons. The president may receive all citizens and political parties including the PDP, who so wish to be granted audience at the presidential villa in line with his primary assignment as the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. But, the election of the PDP BoT chairman is purely a party affair, which should be held at a private venue or at party quarters, and not at the expense of the state. Subjecting the state especially the presidency and its instruments to the use of one political party’s pleasure is a dangerous precedence which must not be condoned.

The presidency of the Federal Republic of Nigeria is not owned by the PDP even though the president is a member of the PDP; he has no right to subject the presidency to be used for PDP party affairs. From the local government to the federal government, it is not unusual to find political office holders spending state budget on sycophancy.

We should learn from other democracies and adopt what will work for us. President Obama of the USA gets a free ride on Air Force One only when he is on official trips, official trips being defined as any act involving the official duty of the president including explaining and garnering support for his policies. This also includes official state visits to other countries. It costs $179,750 per hour to maintain Air Force One; this includes fuelling, maintenance of pilot and crew as well as other operational costs.

When Obama embarks on private or political party trips, it is not as him being the president but the de facto leader of his political party and he must therefore foot part of the bills for the trip. On such trips, President Obama must refund the cost of food, accommodation and travel.  He also refunds the equivalent airfare him and his aides would have paid if they used a commercial airline. They will be some grey areas when he makes official and political trips across the country and this is promptly addressed; the underlining principle is that the president cannot deploy state resources to meet the needs/demands of his political party or associates.

In recent times, the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, David Cameron, was seen making use of a budget airline on a getaway with his wife to celebrate her birthday. Nigeria is not as rich as the US or the UK using GDP indicators as a baseline. It is mind boggling why we have a political system fraught with greed and a lack of accountability and our political office holders live a life of opulence and impunity.

One wonders to what use the presidential jets in Nigeria have been subjected to. Pictures of ex-militants riding one have surfaced in the past. Relatives and acquaintances of the president must be having a jolly free ride on the state bill. When asked about the high budget of running the presidency, our president defended his position by asking us if we have been to Ethiopia to witness presidential banquets.

These are issues we tend to overlook which in turn build the confidence of our politicians to remain unaccountable to the citizens. We are the ones responsible for giving life and meaning to our democracy; we are the ones to enshrine our values and ethics in building Nigeria. Such values must include curtailing the excesses of elected political office holders.  It is not by divination that the nations which respect the will of their people are more prosperous, more stable and more successful; it is the basic requirement for a sustainable democracy.

This piece was first published in The Scoop



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